So I went to an NWSL preseason game and a college game broke out!
A sizable portion of the Maryland Soccerplex crowd wore Carolina blue and broke into a “TAR! … HEELS! …” chant, despite the efforts of Washington uber-fan Stewart Small to interject “SPIRIT!!” The teams played with college substitution rules. For a while, North Carolina’s players outhustled their opponents to every ball and dominated play.
Then Tiffany McCarty broke down the left flank and centered for Carolina killer Caroline Miller, who lashed home the rebound of her own shot, and the professionals restored order against the mighty college dynasty.
“That girl (Miller) has scored against us consistently,” UNC’s legendary coach Anson Dorrance said of the former Virginia player.
Then Dorrance remembered McCarty from her Florida State days. “Actually the other girl was an absolute thorn in our side for four years.”
McCarty was the player of the game. She didn’t officially get an assist on Miller’s 27th-minute goal because Miller’s initial effort was saved. But she was indeed the “absolute thorn” Dorrance remembered from ACC play, and she doubled the Spirit lead in the 47th minute on a superb breakaway.
Stephanie Ochs, usually the target player in the Spirit’s three-pronged attack, sprang McCarty up the middle of the field. McCarty held off a challenge and made substitute keeper Bre Heaberlin guess before calmly finishing as she has so many times in Spirit practice so far.
Carolina managed little the rest of the way.
In the pressbox and on Twitter, we all had a few laughs about playing the game under college substitution rules at Dorrance’s insistence. He was far from apologetic afterwards. “We’re trying to develop our team for next fall,” Dorrance said.
Why not use spring games to develop players for pro play and international play? “The sort of player that ends up on the national team is not subbed out,” he said.
And he had one of those players in Kealia Ohai, Heaberlin’s teammate on the U.S. Under-20 team and the lone scorer in the World Championship final. Plenty of Carolina players could match the Spirit’s speed in a foot race. Ohai was one of the few who could match the actual speed of play, where one- and two-touch play is the norm. “In college, it’s three,” Ohai said.
In the long run, the substitution issue didn’t matter. The typical pro game doesn’t include a change on the fly when a player leaves with a bloody nose — Dorrance couldn’t cite regulations but chalked up to a ref with a brain — but the revolving door at the sideline didn’t affect too drastically.
If anything, the waves of subs provided a good test for the thin Washington team, which had several players on national team duty (UNC was similarly missing Crystal Dunn) and several others injured. Carolina pressed Washington early, beating the Spirit players to the ball and keeping the Spirit stuck in their own end of the field much of the first half-hour. Exhausted UNC midfielder Brooke Elby seemed relieved to see a substitute replacing her in the 28th minute.
“There are going to be some teams that are going to run and gun,” Washington’s elder stateswoman Lori Lindsey said. “They were a good test for us in terms of athleticism.”
The Spirit eventually responded to the high tempo, and coach Mike Jorden let a couple of his own players take a break and return.
“They came out the first 15 minutes and really took it to us,” Spirit coach Mike Jorden said. “As the game went on, we played better.”
– Missing Spirit players, national team duty: GK Ashlyn Harris, D Ali Krieger, D Robyn Gayle, M Diana Matheson. Missing due to nagging injuries: D Candace Chapman, M Colleen Williams, F Megan Mischler, D Kika Toulouse. That left Washington with 16 players dressed.
– The absences also left Washington with a makeshift center-back pairing of Tori Huster and Casey Berrier, the latter of whom just arrived in camp after being waived by Kansas City. Berrier struggled at first, with Domenica Hodak racing over to stop a breakaway in her area, but she picked up the pace as the game went on and stayed in for nearly 60 minutes.
– Dorrance didn’t understand the question when I asked for reaction to the closing of Pepper’s Pizza, which is almost as much of a Chapel Hill institution as he is. His players did. “We’re really sad about that,” Ohai said.
Other game reports (will add links as they come in — feel free to add in comments):